RFU announce plans for two tier franchise plan with an aim to revamp English rugby

Three teams from the Premiership recently entered into administration
Three teams from the Premiership recently entered into administration
©Steve Haag

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) is strongly encouraging Championship clubs to align with proposals for a revamped second tier as part of its comprehensive plans to overhaul the English game.

The financial strain on the English league structure has been severe in recent years. Within a single season, three Premiership teams and a Championship-winning club collapsed financially, raising concerns that others might follow suit unless significant changes occur.

In an effort to reshape the fortunes of top-tier teams, the RFU has unveiled proposals for a two-tier franchise system involving the existing Premiership and Championship. However, this announcement directly contradicts a recent vote by the Championship, which opposed the proposed alterations. The new structure, tentatively named 'Premiership 2', would demand bids of up to £20 million for entry.

These forward-looking plans hang in the balance, with Championship teams yet to be convinced of the RFU's intentions. Should insufficient teams commit, the plans will be scrapped, and there's a warning that the additional funding might be allocated elsewhere, leaving Championship teams in a precarious position.

“We’ve shown that if you pour money into the existing structure of the Championship, it just doesn’t deliver. That’s not being disrespectful, it just doesn’t," said RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney.

“What [the Championship clubs] have said is that if they don’t opt-in, they would rather be the top of the community game pyramid. They’ve said that. I’m not entirely sure why they would say that – if you are a Coventry or an Ealing, why wouldn’t you want to be part of this?

“If you’d prefer to be top of the community game pyramid with your normal promotion and relegation through, it’s not really the performance model we are investing in. If you can’t have that model, and it’s not delivering the benefits and connected in the way we want it to be, you’d rather take that money and invest it in some of the other things that are being talked about.”

Conor O’Shea, the RFU’s executive director of performance rugby, has taken the lead in these plans, while Steve Diamond, the former director of rugby for Sale and Worcester, has been brought in as a consultant.

The primary aim is to enhance the visibility and long-term viability of the English second tier, which currently lacks a broadcast deal or title sponsor. The goal is to reintroduce it in a renewed form by the 2025/26 season.

The RFU has expressed willingness to welcome back clubs such as Wasps, Worcester, and London Irish. These clubs were previously suspended from the Premiership due to financial issues but retain strong standing as established rugby brands.

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